Put down the phone, iPad, video game control, or whatever it is that has kids plugged in and get them outside. Reconnecting with nature and the simplicity of childhood is what motivates Victoria Kuss of Barefoot Kids to operate programs year-round through classes, summer camp, a babysitting club, and a playdate program. With a belief in the kingdom of childhood, there is a strong focus on imagination and letting children just be children.
Advances in technology and the ability to connect and access information in a near instant has in turn raised serious concerns for parents and teachers over the impact technology can have on children and teens. In an effort to get kids off the screen and achieve more balance, Kuss and her own peers endeavor to get kids back to being outside, problem solving, developing coping skills, and discovering things for themselves without the aid of electronic devices.
“Believe it or not, it’s not really hard to get kids to be kids,” Kuss says. “We throw 50 giant cardboard boxes, tape, and scissors out on the field for ‘human Minecraft’ and you better stand back because these kids are going for it.”
During summer camp sessions, which are available now through the end of August, those enrolled can partake in classic neighborhood games as part of the main program in Bridgehampton, including capture the flag, kickball, waterslides, nature games, and more. The traveling adventure program gives access to water-based activities like swimming, water sports, marine science, and nature studies.
As for what campers enjoy most, there’s a toss-up. “The human ice cream sundae and slip and slide is an obvious list leader, but last year’s scavenger hunt on Main Street was a big event,” Kuss shares. “Adventure has a few great secret spots where the kids can just swim with the fish, snorkel, grab the GoPro and really just enjoy it. The Riverhead Aquarium boat is always awesome, and of course, the classes at Shelter Island’s Mashomack Preserve are super fun too”
Barefoot Kids’ babysitting club was a hit among parents last year. Kuss has decided to expand and extend those services to families not enrolled in the camp this summer. Sitters and tutors are all CPR and AED certified, and services can be tailored to individual needs. Kuss has also launched a playdate program in which staff will come to your home with crafts, games, glitter tattoos, and more. The Barefoot Beach Bus service is up and running, available to transport up to 14 people for birthday parties, boat charter groups, dinner parties and more.
While the counselors at Barefoot Kids have found an ease in getting children outdoors, parents may experience some challenges at home in trying to get their kids to put down the devices. Saying “no” and being firm while kids have tantrums can be difficult, but Kuss advises letting them be bored and whine. Eventually, they’ll make the choice to use their imagination and find something fun to do that harkens back to the simplicity of being a kid.
“When I look back, my mom, friends’ moms, grandparents, everybody really, would tell us to go outside all year round,” Kuss shares. “Of course, that didn’t stop us from trying to sneak back in the house, but we eventually made a game out of something. If you’re in the city and the weather is bad, load on the rain gear and go for a walk. If you’re out on the East End, give them some buckets and let them play in the rain. Let them jump in puddles. A hot shower on return and a cup of cocoa makes the day complete, and a great childhood memory!”
The Barefoot Kids main summer camp program is open to children ages two to 10, and the adventure program is open for children ages six to 12. Tuition is based on the length of various programs. Learn more at thebarefootkids.com.